Historic pubs in some of Sunderland’s oldest buildings are branching out to provide more than a pint.
Pubs faced financial difficulty and uncertainty throughout last year as the region followed local and national lockdown restrictions.
Venues were forced to change their business models at short notice to maintain an income, while others refused to put the health and safety of staff and customers at risk.
At the Mountain Daisy, on South Hylton Road, Millfied, Scott Allsopp has been waiting three months to open its doors for the first time.
Scott purchased the pub last year with hopes of opening in the new year, but is yet to welcome a customer through the doors.
He said: “I took over mid-November but if we knew it was going to be closed this long we would have had second thoughts.
“It’s soul destroying walking about an empty pub and thinking ‘when are we going to have people in?’ We’re in a situation where we haven’t served a single customer.
“But because it had been closed for so long the brewery gave us a good deal and I thought it would be worth taking a chance on.”
The purchase of the pub came after Scott changed his career from a social worker to the hospitality industry.
The 41-year-old, who worked in hospitality from the age of 18, said: “I was wanting a new challenge and I wanted to get into the pub trade.”
The imposing pub was rebuilt in the early 1900s, and although some original windows survive, the building was remodelled in the 1970s.
Pre-pandemic, punters flocked to the building to marvel at its fascinating interior. Floor to ceiling tiles deck the walls, a decorated mosaic covers the floor, and the quadrant-shaped ceramic bar counter is one of only a few left in the country.
On the walls, tiled paintings depict scenes in the North East: the High Level Bridge and River Tyne; Newcastle; Durham Cathedral; Wearmouth Bridge, Sunderland; Finchale Abbey; Marsden Rock and its grotto; Bamburgh Castle; and Cragside, Rothbury.
But for now, Scott can only operate a takeaway food service until pubs can reopen.
He explained: “We’re running a takeaway at the moment because we thought we’d push on and start to get some income.
“But It’s a bit hit and miss. It was starting to pick up but the first month after Christmas has been a struggle.
“We were doing takeout alcohol but that’s been stopped. It feels like the pubs have taken the brunt of it.
“It’s really worrying at the minute with people saying July could be reopening. I do think pubs will be the last thing open.”
The Mountain Daisy was ineligible for financial backing because the pub reopened 12 days after the grant’s cut off date, but Scott is hopeful of future funding.
He added: “The closure has helped us because the place needed tidying up by decorating the bar, cleaning the carpets and renovating the tables. It has given us a bit of time but we would have preferred to open.
“Yet I’m wondering how long the closure can go on before things improve and change.”
Barry Hyde and Dan Donnelly, who own The Peacock on High Street West, Sunderland, have used the closure to accelerate their plans of turning the building into a community hub.
The pair are adapting the 1901 pub’s top floor into a studio, rehearsal rooms and a higher education facility in partnership with The University of Sunderland.
Dan said: “We haven’t done any takeaway food or drink but focused on diversifying the building’s potential as a whole rather than concentrating on the pub element.”
Barry and Dan are well known among the North East music scene and hope to use their experience to help young talent.
Dan explained: “We want it to be an arts community space where people can come in and do interpretive dance, yoga classes and all sorts of other activities. We’d like it to be a hub of creativity and arts.
“The pub is only a small part of what it’s going to be. We love music, art, food, booze and education and we’re managing to roll it up into this big package in this gorgeous Edwardian building.”
The university course is set to launch in September with work on the building continuing during its closure.
Dan added: “We want to pass our success down and offer it to young people who want to be in the music industry at the benefit of our contacts and experience, but they also get a BA honours out of it. “
“You’ll have music and arts going on and it’ll be a great creative space for people to hang out in.”